Where? Room 41 of the Uffizi Museum
Commissioned by? Pope Leo X
What do you see? The portrait of Pope Leo X, shows the Pope sitting in his study. He is depicted realistically in a three-quarter profile. He wears the papal robe and the papal camauro, a cap traditionally worn by the pope. A cardinal is on both sides of him. Their silence helps to establish the authority of Pope Leo X in this painting. All three are wearing velvet (a woven fabric with evenly distributed patterns), and the Pope is also wearing a so-called, damask undergarment that shines in the light and has fur linings. In front of the Pope is an illuminated Bible, which is a Bible with decorations such as small illustrations, beautiful initials at the beginning of the paragraph, and sometimes even gold or silver decorations. He was studying the Bible with a golden magnifying glass that he is holding in his hand. Next to the Bible is a finely worked silver bell. On top of his chair is a distinctive golden ball-shaped ornament. In its reflection, you can see the window, the shoulders of the Pope, and the outline of the room.
Backstory: Raphael was the lead painter for Pope Leo X and he had already made quite some portraits of Pope Leo X in fresco scenes. He also painted several portraits of Leo X to distribute throughout Italy. The current painting is the most well-known of these different portraits. The idea behind distributing these paintings was to promote the Medici regime throughout the country. This was important as a lot of things were happening in those years that created uncertainty for the common people and their leaders. One of these things was that Martin Luther (a famous German theology professor) publicized his famous list of complaints against the Roman Catholic Church. Between 1513 and 1605, four popes came from the Medici family. An important reason for this is that popes liked to appoint their family members as cardinals, making it more likely that they would eventually become pope. The cardinal on the left of the painting is Giulio di Giuliano de’ Medici (a cousin of the Pope who would become Pope Clement VII from 1523 until 1534). The cardinal on the right is Luigi de’ Rossi (another cousin of the Pope).
Symbolism: The open Bible in front of Leo X is probably the Hamilton Bible, a famous 14th century Bible with illustrations and decorations, which is nowadays in the Kupferstichkabinett in Berlin. It refers to the good education of Pope Leo X. The beautifully carved bell and the illuminated Bible both indicate Pope Leo’s love for art as he was a great art collector and commissioner. The robe and the cap (called a camauro) the Pope is wearing are the typical garments for the pope. The golden ball on top of the chair, called a finial, may be a reference to the Medici family emblem, which contains six balls.
Who is Pope Leo X? Giovanni de’ Medici (1475 – 1521) is the second son of Lorenzo the Magnificent, the ruler of the Florentine Republic. He became a cardinal at 13 years old. An important reason that Giovanni became a cardinal at such a young age was that his sister was married to Pope Innocent VIII. He became pope on March 9, 1513, until his death on December 1, 1521. During his rule as pope, he excommunicated Martin Luther from the church, and he granted people who donated to the reconstruction of St. Peter’s Basilica a reduction in the amount of punishment they would have to undergo for their sins (called indulgence). He was a big spender and ruined the papal finances under the motto: “Since God has given us the papacy, let us enjoy it”.
Who is Raphael? Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino (1483-1520), popularly known as Raphael, was born in Urbino, a small city a few hours east of Florence. His father, Giovanni Santi, was a painter with a good reputation, but Raphael had already lost both his parents at age 11. He is best known for his depictions of the Virgin Mary (Madonnas), and his large-scale depictions of humans. His work is widely appreciated for the clarity and magnificence with which he could paint people and his simple compositions. In 1508, he was summoned to Rome by Pope Julius II, the predecessor of Pope Leo X, to become the lead court painter. He stayed there until his death, which was one year before the death of Pope Leo X. He is buried in the Pantheon in Rome.
Fun fact: When an old painting is rediscovered there is always the question whom to attribute the work to. The reason is that there often exist many copies of the original painting. Copies of a masterpiece are much less valuable and often not as good as the masterpiece itself. However, there is a copy of this painting of Leo X by Andrea del Sarto that is legendary. In 1523, the Marquis of Mantua asked Pope Clement VII (the cardinal on the left) for the painting of Pope Leo X with two cardinals. This request was approved, and before giving the painting away, a copy was made by Andrea del Sarto. However, the owner of the original painting wanted to keep the original and gave the copy away. The copy was so good that even the assistant of Raphael, Giulio Romana, who had helped with the original painting could not recognize that it was not the original painting. The copy hangs now in the Museo di Capodimonte in Naples, Italy.
Interested in a copy for yourself? Poster or canvas.
Written by Eelco Kappe